notes from Left-Wing Freudianism and the Consumer Society
[aggressive post ww2 "consumer society" in the West]
....Left-wing Freudianism is rooted in a cluster of concepts and sentiments invariably associating Unlimited pleasure with anonymity or the "unselfed" self cast into the dark waters of what Marxists would call illusory community. Seen, on the contrary, as authentic by virtue of its supremely natural origins, this community is even contrasted with the genuine, Marxist concept. On which account, the left-wing Freudians proclaimed themselves Socialists and Communists more bonafide than even the founders of Marxism. Curiously enough, it was this very concept-cluster which subsequently inspired the quest for uncensored, unlimited pleasure (consumption), the thrill-seekers having heard themselves declared terribly anti-bourgeois, revolutionary and communistic. Were they not against bourgeois individualism, against the very principle of individualism itself? Thus was freedom, understood to promise unlimited indulgence, twisted to uphold barrack-room Communism, the scourge of individuality. The extremes had touched and met: the only obstacle encountered either by the primal levelling process or by the radical (i.e. unlimited) pleasure drive was now seen to be the individual, the ethically-inclined ego. And it was duly attacked, first by the theorists on the left-wing Freudian flank, and then by their enthusiastic admirers, the vulgar proponents of consumerism.
....cheap goods, cheaper credit and a constantly inflated consumer demand found its chief impact on the moral consciousness of the state-monopolist West in the sensuality cult, from which it was but a hop, skip and a jump to the cult of sexual thrills and sexuality in general, its natural culmination. The almost mystic reverence surrounding this hedonist-consumer creed derives from its uses in the pursuit of pleasure of any kind. As Bell points out in his The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, the consumer society, which answers, and rightly so, to the name of permissive as well, has taken the traditional bourgeois theme of acquisition to its logical end in sex
[....[Cutrone]....As Adorno put it, the commodity form is not a fact of consciousness but rather is dialectical in the sense that it produces consciousness. In other words, the commodity form is a "real abstraction," in the sense that abstract labor -- for labor-time is the central object of the commodity form -- is socially real.]
..... hedonism, or in Freud's more precise terms, the "pleasure-principle" at the heart of all consumption.........one precept excludes the other....old calling for work, work and more work....[versus] new—for consumption in the same proportions ....
....cf. the young Marx on "the industrial eunuch"
....more a man works, the less time and energy he has to consume and vice versa: the more he chases after pleasure, the less he can give to production.
....capitalist production agent split irrecoverably into a consumer at war with his producer's half, both making peremptory demands on a single ego. Schizophrenia was obviously—and ominously—at hand.
....incontinent consumerism precipitated a psychiatric epidemic, to say nothing of the snowballing interest in psychopathology in general and Freudian analysis in particular.
....rare man who still believes that willpower, thrift and a sense of purpose open the doors to capitalist success. Which quite naturally clears a great deal of ground for the antithetical pleasure-principle in its war on the Protestant capitalist spirit.
....pleasure-principle....a far cry from taking an anti-capitalist, let alone Communist stance.
....supporters ....grudging Daniel Bell to the enthusiastic Herbert Marcuse, Norman 0. Brown, Paul Goodman and Theodore Roszak....
....general characteristics........appeals ....to the aesthetic, sensual and even the brute physical side of man.
....leaning as it does to the anonymous, Freudian id, with its lust for maximum satisfaction at any given point in time.
....slave to the passions which exempt him in much the same way as possession was thought, in the Middle Ages, to destroy the ego (but left the possessed to take his punishment nonetheless). And nothing could suit the power hungry industrial eunuch better.
.....pleasure-principle.... equally divided against itself....awareness (in the eunuch and the consumer alike) that it will never find complete fulfilment, unlimited consumption presupposing unlimited production.
....its ideological, philosophical expression, the theoretician's attempt to resolve it.[Significance for Marxists]
...."reality-principle" is close to what we have named the principle of production, of self-expanding production....
....Lustprinzip [pleasure principal]....lust for maximum satisfaction....
....Freud set definite limits on consciousness, to "make room", not for faith as Kant had before him, but rather for the pleasure....
....assigning the subconscious to the unfettered run of the pleasure– principle, he opened up new avenues in Utopian thought....
....Utopia was open to all, right in bed, provided one had a copy of Traumdeutung on hand.
.... hedonistic consumer trends confined to narrow, select circles in the 1920s....one decade after World War II, attained a widespread popularity.
....Freud raised the private life of the middle classes he himself sprang from to the level of classical tragedy: the Oedipus complex made every man an instant hero.
....bedroom dramas ennobled by the classical allusions Freud's various complexes introduced into the philistine lifestyle.
....thanks to the mass media, the game was no longer the reserve of the aristocratic few; that the "too too many" were invited to play too could not help but affect the very philosophy of Freudianism.
....Freudian fashion.... found its social base in the consumer society and the sexual revolution it itself sparked to fulfil the sexual Utopian fantasies Freud had inspired in the 1920s..... Television and the cinema rushed to keep urbis et orbis abreast of the very latest developments, pushing "progress" to the most remote corners of the country.
[URBIS ET ORBIS . DECREE. Special Indulgences are conceded to faithful on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St Paul the Apostle]
....sex sets the standard for all sensual brands of pleasure, playing much the same role as money in the economic sphere of bourgeois society....cult of the Orgasm which succeeded (and contrary to a number of bourgeois sociologists, did not replace but merely overshadowed) the cult of Mammon....
....Freudianism originated as a tentative compromise between the rigorist, rationalistic Work Ethic (reflected in Freud's reality-principle and the super-ego as well), and -the twentieth-century's galloping hedonist-consumer trend (represented by his Lustprinzip).
....two factors upset the tenuous balance achieved, in the first quarter of this century....a glaring contradiction in the production-principle; and second, the pleasure-principle's marked invigoration in the sociological and hence theoretical fields, its acquiring veritable hordes of advocates in theory and practice alike....an entirely new breed of neurotic.....traditional religion and ethics have, with the spread of the consumer trend, lost all value, both in healing the soul and as a guide to individual conduct, their functions usurped by psychoanalysis, especially of the Freudian variety. The victory, however, was Pyrrhic, signalling as it did the beginning of the end for classic Freudianism.
[n.b. Over-stating things considerably here, telescoping short-term petty-bourgeois sociological trends in holding sway within the boom curve of post-war capitalist development. A few years later a massive upsurge in consumerization of traditional religion and church political economy would begin in the US. JR]
....consumer society could only have followed its basic trend through more or less significant concessions to the state-monopoly capitalist order on which it rose.
....production- and the pleasure-principle making equal claims on the whole man, such as to divide him, frenziedly, between a cautious diurnal and lusty nocturnal half, the left-wing Freudians opted automatically for the second.
....left-wing Freudians of the 1950s and 1960s, counting Breton their predecessor ....
Left-wing Freudianism (and left-wing, Bretonist surrealism, too, for that matter) re-examines Freudian values in a Marxist light.
....pleasure-principle ....retains the inevitable biological slant of classic Freudianism....
....reality-principle is given a NeoMarxist, "Hegelianised", Western twist. In the resulting amalgam, Freudo-Marxism attacks both Freud and Marx on supposedly leftist grounds. Such was the left-wing Freudianism first advocated by Wilhelm Reich and Eric Fromm.
....Reich....the ultra "Marxo-Freudian"....
....Fromm [migrated from leftism to bourgeois liberalism].
....early Fromm ....mythologems [basic theme, as of revenge, self-sacrifice, or betrayal, that is shared by cultures throughout the world] behind the consumer-ideology....criticised the moderately liberal Freud in unmistakably radical-leftist terms....debunked ....patriarchy [as] ....head and fount of human history, with its father-figure correlate dominating the human soul as the rigorist superego founded on and the crowning glory of the reality– principle.[Fromm]....argued for the matriarchy as the primal and most natural order of human existence, substituting the pleasure-principle, with its cooperative, permissive and egalitarian tendencies, for the reality-principle and superego.
....Fromm lambastes both the super-ego and the reality-principle. The latter is taken to indicate a bourgeois survival (subsequently termed "conformism") in the father of psychoanalysis.
....permissiveness-principle....consumer– society, now seen as a reversion, on a new historical level, to the free-for-all matriarchy.
....new balance between the production-principle originally dominant in bourgeois practice and the recently but gradually established pleasure-principle.
....breakthrough....by the sexual revolutionaries among the New Left nihilists and extremists.....Leftist Freudianism is losing popularity, with nothing new to offer the thrill-seeking individual. Inflation, unemployment, the energy, environment and other crises have made thrill or play-therapy irrelevant to contemporary state-monopoly capitalism.